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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
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    SE Alaska
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    Avalung Survivor

    Cross post from the main forum to keep this story. Don't want to lose the link from Dawson's site.



    Please describe your past off piste backcountry skiing experience?

    I have been skiing for 19 years, and off-piste backcountry skiing for the last five, always using beacons, shovels and probes. In those five years, I have seen three avalanches.



    Have you taken any avalanche safety courses in the past?
    No I haven't, but I have read parts of the book " Skredfare " [WildSnow.com editor's note: a European avalanche safety book for backcountry skiers]. In Val Thorens (2004), we backcountry skied a lot with a friend (Petter) we hadn't skied with before. He had been to an avalanche safety course held by Markus Landerø (author of ”Skredfare”). We asked Petter to lead a practice session with our beacons. This was the first time many of us - including me - trained with our beacons outside.

    Did you purchase the AvaLung? If, yes, what led you to buy it?
    I got my avalung for Christmas from my girlfriend, 2 years ago.

    Did you practice with your AvaLung as you do with your avalanche beacon?
    I did not practice by getting buried. I check it before each ski tour by breathing through it. I also usually breathe through it before crossing a slope I consider to be risky.
    Backcountry skiing avalanche survivor.
    Avalanche survivor Martin Gulsrud with his Avalung.

    Please describe the situation of the avalanche.
    It was a sunny day, the last day of our holiday. The avalanche risk was down from 4 to 3. The backcountry skiing slope where I was buried was one we had been watching the whole week. Four days earlier there had been an avalanche next to where we wanted to ski. We saw craters in the same side which indicated they had secured this side with explosives. There had been many people skiing on the other side of the old avalanche, near the piste. Thus, we thought this side was "safe." We knew about the high avalanche risk for backcountry skiing during this week, but we suspected conditions had stabilized, and decided to give it a try. On top of the slope we decided I would go first.

    Were you the only person buried?
    Yes

    How the the avalanche propagate? Did you set it off? If so, were you skiing when it happened?
    I had skied straight line for about 15 meters to gather speed, then I took 2-3 turns and it cracked around me. I was carried for approximately 200-250 meters down, and it went fast. I think I had the same speed all the way down to the bottom, where all the snow gathered in in a bowl. Reaching the bottom of the slope I was buried at once. After I was brought to the medical center, the ski patrol told my friends that the bowl where the avalanche stopped was a small frozen lake. They found a body in this lake 6 months after it had been taken by an avalanche in the same side.

    Was if easy/difficult to get the mouthpiece in and breathe?
    I took the mouthpiece in my mouth as soon as I noticed that I had lost all my speed relative to the avalanche, and at this moment I was still standing up. It was a huge help to breathe through the avalung while being dragged down the slope. The avalung was easy to breathe through, and I could focus on what to do when I was buried, instead of struggle with snow in my mouth and lungs.

    Once you were buried did you gain a sense of calm as you were able to breathe?
    YES !!! Still in the avalanche, carried down the slope in high speed, I surfaced right before reaching the bottom of the slope. At that moment I thought luckily I am not going to be buried. While surfacing I was able to turn around so i could see where I was carried. Then I saw the snow raise up like a wave when hitting the breaking end of the slope. I understood that I was going to be buried seconds later, so I started to expand my lungs so I could have space to breathe under the snow pack. At the same moment I crashed into this wall of moving snow, I was covered and the pressure started to increase. I could hear the bouldering sound of snow landing upon me and the pressure was increasing extremely fast. This sound stayed on for around 5 to 10 seconds, and during this time I concentrated on taking short and fast gasps of air with as much air in my lungs as possible.

    Even though I fought for the space around my lungs I ended up with less than 50% of full lung capacity. The pressure was enormous; I couldn't move a finger or open my mouth. During the time I was carried down the slope, at the time I was buried and after it all had settled down, I didn't use any forces trying to move the snow or position my self any different. The only thing I focused on was having space around my lungs, and I remember thinking how this would be without the avalung. I am very glad I didn't panic and struggle against the forces of the avalanche. I was very frightened until I concluded that the snow wasn't moving any more, I could breath and I was in a position where I cold stay alive for a while.

    I was sure I was buried deep because I could hear the rumble of the avalanche getting weaker and weaker. It didn't take long for Erik and Andreas to be standing on top of me. I cold hear through the snow that they were at the right area, and I heard over my PMR 446 radio that they were in contact with other people in our group. I heard a lot of activity in the snow but still I hadn't felt any probes hit my body. I thought "maybe I am deeper than 3.5 meters ” (length of Erik's probe) since they still hadn't hit me.

    The fact was that Erik and Andreas had started to dig around 2 meters away from the pinpoint location above me. Soon Erik got some new signals from his beacon and and he used his probe again and hit my arm and shoulder at 2.5 meters. At this moment the first guy from the ski patrol came, and right after this there were 7 others digging around Erik´s probe. The ski patrol had now taken over the rescue. Andreas had this small Ortovox plastic shovel with the red blade, and Erik had a bigger aluminum folding shovel. They told me afterward that they would never be able to dig me out from where I was laying. After digging 1 meter deep, they were totally exhausted and the snow was too hard for the light shovels.

    The ski patrol got there so quickly because Cathrine (Erik´s girlfriend) was sitting outside a cafe on one of the lift tops. She was watching us and had seen see the avalanche. She had contact with Erik and Andreas over PMR radios. The ski patrol had a base there, so she reported the accident the moment it happened, and the ski patrol just traversed to get to the bottom of the avalanche. This was pure luck again, as we have been skiing other places where it would have taken more time to get help. This is one of the things we will consider when going off piste in the next time.

    In what position were you buried (example lying down and facing upward)?
    I was buried in a sitting position with my head vertically above my back. My right leg was a bit bent backwards, but not uncomfortably. My left leg was straight and lifted, but not so high as to tear my muscles on my hamstring, and it pointed slightly to the left, seen from above. My left arm was almost straightened out, and it pointed a bit forward and upwards. My right arm I held close to my body with my right hand in a tight grip around the tube of the avalung just beneath the mouthpiece.

    How long do you estimate you were buried?
    I said 15 minutes before, but after meeting with my mother last weekend, she told me that when Erik and Andreas met my parents, to tell them about the accident, they concluded that was more like 20 minutes. (Third party confirmation estimates his burial was 20 minutes).

    Did you feel you could have lasted longer beneath the snow?
    Yes. I started to feel a bit dizzy when the rescue team reached my hand, but the rest of my body was still under the snow. I was a bit chilled by the heavy snow, and because when I had the thought that maybe I laying deeper than 3.5 meters, I was a bit concerned about the cold. (Third party confirmation estimates Gulsrud was buried under 2.5 meters of snow).

    Did you sustain any other injuries?
    No

    Did this experience change how you will approach skiing off piste in the future?
    As I said earlier in the text, we will consider how long it will take to for help to come, and how we can contact them. Some of us had the number to the ski patrol on our mobile phones, and I believe they listen to channel 1 and 2 on the 446 band. Among the 10 people traveling together, 6 of us regularly go off piste - one of them is me - and the 5 other are not going off piste again without an Avalung and at least an aluminum shovel the size of the one Erik has.

    Do you have anything else to add regarding the AvaLung or your experience?
    As I lay buried under the snow, I got some spit in my mouth, I was wondering whether or not I cold let this spit go into the Avalung. I thought about what I had read about the Avalung in the user manual, about how it works. I concluded that the spit would be drained out through the outlet valve, the same way as my breath, so I let it go this way. Towards the end of waiting under the snow, I heard gurgling sounds from the Avalung, but I was still confident that a hard breath out would clean the pipe. I never felt this was a problem so I didn't do anything about it.



    Link here

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    SE Alaska
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    11,720
    The rest........


    I felt so lucky to have the Avalung both on my way down the slope, and while buried for such a long time. I was prepared to wait for a long time to get up, mostly because I felt like I was really deep, but it didn't worry me because I believed that I would have fresh air until they finally found me. The most frightening moment of the whole accident was when I was fighting for the space around my chest. Without the Avalung, I think this would have been impossible. So even though my friends and I were lucky in this backcountry skiing experience, I do believe that none of us could have survived this avalanche without an Avalung

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Location
    Boulder, CO
    Posts
    2,146
    Read the story this morning on wildsnow.com. Simply amazing you never here of burials this deep and the person surviving. Even more amazing is that he had no injuries!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    Ogden
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    5,511
    Fucking scary.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    1,847
    Wow, great read; I can't believe I haven't bought one yet...

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Location
    Eagle River Alaska
    Posts
    10,892
    shit thats intense
    Its not that I suck at spelling, its that I just don't care

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Simi Valley, CA
    Posts
    5,107
    Okay, that was enough for me to drop the $100 and order one...

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    not far from snowbird
    Posts
    2,245
    Quote Originally Posted by 1000-oaks
    Okay, that was enough for me to drop the $100 and order one...

    if you are going to be out in the bc during the winter months it is a prudent purchase. i have the old vest style and am looking to upgrade during the summer sales. prevention first, precautions second.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Denver
    Posts
    85

    avalung

    wow. definitely sounds like a smart buy. the article also echos what many here have stressed before - buy a burly aluminum shovel.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    my head up my ass
    Posts
    525
    Bump for safety.

    I always kinda laughed off the avalung thing. But, they seem to work better than I thought.

    Maybe backcountry.com could do a maggot special on these things?

    I remember many years ago when everyone in town sold beacons at cost just to encourage folks to buy them and use them.
    Not that bc.com is a non-profit, but this would be something they could do to save the minions while also making a small profit.
    I should buy one for the wife and myself.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep 2001
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    Alco-Hall of Fame
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    3,076
    I sent a PM via ttips to Mr. MacLean (the only person I "know" at BD) about my idea but I figgered maybe some mags in UT know other ones and if you like de idear maybe you could pressure them as well (I want no credit for the idea just to be able to buy one): they should incorporate the avalung into a line of helmets.
    "It is not the result that counts! It is not the result but the spirit! Not what - but how. Not what has been attained - but at what price.
    - A. Solzhenitsyn

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    not far from snowbird
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    2,245
    Quote Originally Posted by lemon boy
    I sent a PM via ttips to Mr. MacLean (the only person I "know" at BD) about my idea but I figgered maybe some mags in UT know other ones and if you like de idear maybe you could pressure them as well (I want no credit for the idea just to be able to buy one): they should incorporate the avalung into a line of helmets.
    as far as i know, andrew mclean no longer works there. i think he still may be involved with them but i don't know. ask trackhead. he speaks with him a bit.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    my head up my ass
    Posts
    525
    Quote Originally Posted by lemon boy
    they should incorporate the avalung into a line of helmets.
    Interesting Idea. As long as you could get enough surface area for the intake (and a clean route for the exhaust so you don't re-breathe it) that could be pretty cool.

    Although, wouldn't the snorkel part be flopping around or if you strapped it down with velcro, that would seem a bit dorky. The mouthpiece for the vest or bandolier is just down on your chest, more out of the way.

    This idea might be really really good for the full face Motocross helmets with the chin guard (which is where your mouthpiece can be discretely waiting for you).

    If these catch on, I'm sure well see more of em built into jackets or BC packs.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    East Bay
    Posts
    779
    Thread resurrection bump. This is the only account I've ever read of an Avalung-attributed deep-burial survival. Are there others I'm missing? I also like the idea of having the mouthpiece mounted somewhere within the chin-guard area of a full-face helmet. Always seemed like getting it up to the mouth from a camelbak-sipper-esque position would be next to impossible. Thoughts?

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
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    Closed Area
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    i wear one at work with the straps cut off, taped to my pack strap. if something is wigging me out i pull out the snorkel so it's closer to my mouth. hmmmm, snorkel, i just had an idea...

  16. #16
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Posts
    29,089
    He maintained a difficult calm. It might have been somewhat reassuring to have not been injured, been wearing a radio so he could hear the rescue op in motion, and knowing he was sucking air. A long time ago friend who got buried and was sighted by his wiggling index finger protruding out of the snow under a chair said they dug a four foot hole to his face, but it kept caving in on him and he was choking on the crystals. Said it was kinda calm down there while he was waiting. But freaky when he saw his lifeline collapse on his face.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    Squampton, BC
    Posts
    843
    I would be interested in a group buy, if not I'll probably shop around in the off season for a good deal.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    30,015
    Black Diamond are bringing out a range of Avalung packs this fall
    Quote Originally Posted by Downbound Train View Post
    And there will come a day when our ancestors look back...........

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    SLC
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    1,195
    Here is a link to see them:
    http://www.telemarktips.com/firstlook9.html
    Keep it unclipped

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    In rain shadow of the Sierra CC,NV
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    3,075
    Quote Originally Posted by covert
    i wear one at work with the straps cut off
    Wow, what job do you do ?

    Quite a read !
    What a Lucky bugger.
    Avalung vs Inflatable back-pack ?????
    Avalung's cheaper, I guess.

    ...Remember, those who think Global Warming is Fake, also think that Adam & Eve were Real...

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Closed Area
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    Quote Originally Posted by TurxSki
    Wow, what job do you do ?

    Quite a read !
    What a Lucky bugger.
    Avalung vs Inflatable back-pack ?????
    Avalung's cheaper, I guess.
    avy forecasting/control/guiding.

    looking forward to bd's new packs w/ the integrated avalung. i was hoping they would build one into the Revelation pack. unfortunately, it sounds like they have developed a seperate line of packs w/ avalung that probably won't meet my needs

    personally i'm not a fan of things exploding out of my pack. seems like an overly complex and cumbersome "solution."

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    SLC
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    Covert, I agree with wanting an avalung in the revelation. I like the two packs they are showing with integrated Avalungs, but I'd like to see something a little bigger with it built in as well.
    Dostie's burial article in Couloir has really sold me on them though, he should get a paycheck for that article. Had to have put more than a few people over the hump.
    Keep it unclipped

  23. #23
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    Dec 2005
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    Closed Area
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    i was given an avalung for work a few years ago but it wasn't until this year that i started using it on my days off.

    i was teaching a class and i kept talking about eliminating variables and stacking the odds in your favor. in retrospect it seems like such a no brainer.

    avalung=i can breathe under the snow....no brainer. maybe someday they'll be as standard as beacon/shovel/probe.

    another note for anyone that's interested. i include skins in the beacon/shovel/probe category of must haves. if your partner is buried above you how will you get there? good advice for those who frequent lift-assisted bc.

  24. #24
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Posts
    29,089
    Quote Originally Posted by TurxSki
    Wow, what job do you do ?

    Quite a read !
    What a Lucky bugger.
    Avalung vs Inflatable back-pack ?????
    Avalung's cheaper, I guess.
    The balloon packs I've seen didn't have much room for other gear, but it's been a while.

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Pittsburgh
    Posts
    1,074
    I got caught head-down in a tree well this winter in very light unconsolidated powder conditions. The snow kept caving in on me, and my throat and nose was packed with snow. A real alarming situation when you try to breath and get nothing. I was lucky to finally clear an air space, and was skiing with partners. They returned within 5-minutes and released my skis and hauled me out. I wonder if an Avalung would have made this situation more tolerable, or if it is useful in a tree well situation.
    ________________________________________________
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